Despite the efforts of active and retired service men and women including civilian friends seeking the Medal of Honor for William McCormack, he died in 1989.
Story of First Silver Star,
The debacle on Bataan horrified the Marines who had been taken their share of serial bombardment on the Rock. It was time to return to the beach and the boats to carry the vital intelligence back to Corregidor. McCormack, leading on the point, spotted a large Jap patrol lower down on the slope leading to the bay. He signaled back to the control commander to halt. It was obvious to the Marines they were cut off. There were to many Japs.
“They're heading toward this ammo dump,” McCormack indicated on the map the patrol commander had spread out. “If I can blow it, you can get out during the confusion.”
“You're liable to kill yourself Mack,” The officer replied. “It’s our only chance lieutenant,” McCormack said. The officer silently nodded his ok and the Texan slithered off through the Jungle in the direction of the Jap patrol and the ammo dump. In the distance the sound of Jap artillery rolled closer as the enemy chewed up the American troops who were now in full retreat toward the beaches.
It was dusk on April 6th , 1942 when McCormack reached the ammo dump after silently passing Jap sentries. The enemy patrol, a reinforced company, had halted at the ammo dump and dug in. He set up a few grenade booby traps among the artillery shells and then found some primer cord and explosive, which he covered over with tarps to cover the sparks, and set a match to the fuse. Then he crawled away, heading down hill as fast as he could on his hands and knees. At what he thought was a safe distance, he stood up and ran. Shouts from behind indicated that the Japs had heard him. Bullets cut through the foliage that whipped into his eyes and scratched and bloodied his face. He burst into a clearing – into a Jap outpost. Still on the run he snapped off four shot that slammed two of the enemy soldiers to the ground. Then he disappeared into the foliage.
Then it happened. The jungle behind him lit up and a trimmer like an earth quick shook the ground beneath his running feet, followed by a rush of air and concussion that hurled him to the ground. Rocks and dirt and chunks of trees fell all around him with peaces of human bodies from the enemy patrol that had been encamped around the ammo dump. He got to his feet and kept running, finally reaching the beach just in time to be spotted by the last boat load of Marines about to return to Corregidor. He waved his arms, stumbled to his knees and passed out from exhaustion and lack of breath with the words of one of his buddies penetrating his ears, “hey, it’s Mack! He made it!”
There’s no citation for this act of heroism that the U.S. Army awarded him his first silver star in general orders. No. 21 on April 6th, 1942. He received his second decoration three days later.
Second Silver Star Citation
His second silver star on April 9th 1942 read “…Corporal McCormack, without regard to his personal safety, voluntarily left a place of shelter and proceeded a distance of two hundred yards over open ground to the seen of the cave-in, and aided in digging out the trapped men.”
Third Silver Star Citation
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity as a Member of the Beach Defenses, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Corregidor, Philippine Islands, 2 May 1942. When direct hostile artillery hits on our powder magazines caused disastrous explosions and set fire to several ammunition dumps nearby, Corporal McCormack voluntarily, and without orders, made his way through the flaming debris and flying shell fragments to assist in evacuating the wounded and in extinguishing the inferno. Heroically persevering in his valiant efforts under the most chaotic conditions, he aided in bringing the fire under control and in removing valuable materials from the battery and, ignoring renewed enemy artillery and air bombardments, removed many wounded and trapped men to safety. By his resolute courage and unwavering devotion to duty, Corporal McCormack was instrumental in saving numerous lives, thereby reflecting great credit upon himself and the United States Navel Service.” Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal (1942)
Fourth Silver Star Citation
"Corporal William N. McCormack, United States Marine Corps, displayed gallantry in action on 13 April 1942 following a heavy Japanese artillery barrage upon Battery James, Fort Mills, Corregidor, Philippine Islands. When personnel of the battery were trapped as they sought shelter in nearby tunnels, he readily volunteered, although the position was under close enemy observation and steady fire, to rescue his comrades. Disregarding the imminent danger of collapsing walls and roofs, Corporal McCormack heroically entered the tunnels, assisted in extracting trapped soldiers, and gave first aid to the wounded." The Adjutant Generals Office War Department
William N. McCormack, USMC
Staff sergeant William N. McCormack was born at McAdoo, in Dickens County, Texas on December 9, 1915. He moved with his parents to Ingleside, Texas (San Patricio County) in 1920, and there attended school through the 6th grade. The highest grade offered at that time. Moving from the arid high plains of West Texas to low-lying coastal lands on a peninsula bounded by salt water bays was an experience the 5-year-old boy must have liked.
At age 14, McCormack joined the Merchant Marines Service in Philadelphia and was assigned to work in the Quartermaster department. He entered the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves in Houston in 1934 at the age of 19. Five years later, in 1939, he volunteered for active duty with the Marine Corps. He took his basic training at San Diego, California.
With the build-up of the Japanese threat in 1941, McCormack’s first duty assignment in November, 1941, was in the Headquarters Company of the 4th Regiment of the 4th Marine Division at Shanghai, China guarding the International Settlement. Thus, the name “China Marines” was given to McCormack’s unit and it was often referred to in that way.
McCormack’s next duty station was Corregidor Island in the Philippines. McCormack’s unit landed there on December 7th, 1941. The 1440 Leathernecks in the regiment answered the bugle call. “To Arms” on December 8, 1941. The United States was at war with Japan. McCormack’s 4th Regiment was assigned to protect the beaches on Corregidor and Bataan from Japanese landings. Just one day later, on December 9th, General Douglas McArthur cited Corporal McCormack “For his unwavering devotion to duty during direct hostile artillery hits, removing many wounded and trapped men to safety, thereby reflecting great credit upon himself and the United States Naval Service.” On that day McCormack earned his first decoration in World War II when McArthur awarded him the second highest decoration any member of the Armed Services can receive; The Distinguished Service Cross.
On December 11, just 2 days later, General McArthur warded Corporal McCormack his second “Distinguished Service Cross” for his “conspicuous gallantry, as a member of the Beach Defenses, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Corregidor.” Army Major General George F. Moore awarded McCormack 4 Silver Stars in the spring of 1942, beginning on April 6th, then April 9th, April 13th, and on May 2nd, 1942. On one citation Gen. Moore stated; “For meritorious service and outstanding performance of duty in action during the defense of Corregidor”.
On May 27th, 1942, Corporal McCormack’s unit was ordered by Lt. General Jonathan Wainwright to lay down arms and surrender to the Japanese. Replacements of material, ammunition and men had not arrived in tie, and 300,000 Japanese forces had taken the Islands.
Bill McCormack’s vision was blurred by tears as his Regiment’s colors were brought down and burned. McCormack watched in awe as his Regiment Commander, Colonel Sam Howard, saddened at the turn of the battle, said, “I have to be the first Marine Officer ever to surrender a Regiment.”
Of the 1368 Leathernecks and 72 officers deployed on Corregidor and Bataan, 330 were killed in action, 357 were wounded, and those who survived were taken prisoner by the Japanese and forced to march eight abreast and bare footed on long Bataan Death March, where 239 more died.
By the end of the war, there were only 871 Marines left alive in Japanese P.O.W. Camps. He was in Manchuria (Manchukuo 1932-1945), Japan (now China). He will never forget the planes circling the camp where he and fellow prisoners were held in prison when they were liberated by the jumping paratrooper; some landing inside their compound. The Japanese guards laid down their guns, threw arms high into the air and surrendered. McCormack was discharged from active duty in the summer of 1945. He returned home to Ingleside Texas and on February 7th, 1946 married Dorothy Nell Beck; five children were born.
Staff Sergeant McCormack earned a total of 52 war medals, decorations and citations during his military career, including 11 Purple Hearts and 20 Bronze Stars. He suffered many wounds while on active duty, including a wound in his chest, and a wound to his head that took 83 stitches to close. Before he died in 1989 he was the nation's most decorated living Marine. He is listed in the Texas Hall of State, the United States Hall of Fame, and the U.S. Naval Institute.
He was one of the first 27 members of the U.S. Armed Forced to be decorated in World War II. He held a life membership in the Veterans of Foreign Affairs, the P.O.W.-M.I.A. Association, Disabled American Veterans, Marine Corps League, and the 11th Airborne Association.
McCormack’s service to his country and community did not cease when he was retired. His many community contributions include the Toys for Tots Christmas Program and was a Patriotic Chairman of V.F.W. Post 6386 (Ingleside). McCormack spoke at many Civic, School and Service Organizations. He participated in as many special observances events as time and distance would permit. He never refused an invitation to speak and participate in parades and considered it an opportunity to be of service.